Lego & Architecture: Child’s Play No More

Lego_Fallingwater FLW

LEGO Architect’s Series: Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright

Lego & Architecture: Child’s Play No More
by Vera Tan

This article came about when I saw a Lego set while shopping. Not just the regular Lego but…Falling Water! Making an online search on the product, the Architect’s Series was first launched in May 09. Prior to that, the pioneer of the architectural range was the 2008 Landmark Series which had the Sears Tower & the John Hancock Center. A relatively new product of Lego, the Architect’s Series brings a miniature architectural experience to everyone.

Delving further, Lego’s association & collaboration with the architectural world has definitely been developing positively, especially over the past few years. White Lego blocks were used for the travelling exhibition and workshop “Building Asia Brick by Brick” from 2007 to 2008, organized by People’s Architecture Foundation and Art Asia Pacific magazine. Nine architects from the Asia Pacific region were involved in creating original models out of the Lego bricks to raise awareness on architectural preservation in Asia.

Bernard Khoury for Building Asia Brick by Brick.
Photo: Roger Mourkarzal © Art Asia Pacific and People’s Architecture Foundation

Prior to that, official Lego models of towns & cities were already part of the toy giant’s series. To the delight of many Lego enthusiasts, historical landmarks such as the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower were also released in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Lego’s recent tribute to modern architecture is a further affirmation of our industry’s influence. I am sure architects worldwide are pretty pleased that one of the world’s biggest toy maker has produced such charming collectors’ items!

Gushing aside, the humble Lego brick inspires us to re-think about the most basic building unit. One simple block when multiplied, combined, subtracted and permutated can result in unexpected outcomes. This idea translates both ways: using the brick as building material; or its composite manifestation in the form of modular units. For the former, a classic example would be Louis Kahn’s Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. A lengthy and intricate work of art, it took 12 years for planning and construction from 1967-1974. The campus expresses the raw beauty of the brick and exudes charisma, with dynamic changes in light and shadow at different times of the day.

Louis Kahn’s Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

Today, buildings constructed primarily out of bricks are few and far between, given the advancement in technology towards novel materials and pre-fabrication as a growing trend. The power of modularity is in its advantages: It is fast, flexible and conforms to economies of scale. Critics of the modular system may argue that such an approach leads to monotony and repetition in form. Yet, we cannot deny that there are some commendable examples, such as the Nakagin Capsule Tower, Moshie Safdie’s Habitat 67 and locally, Paul Rudolf’s Colonnade apartment tower. The complexities of these projects lay within the endless possibilities that can be created by variations of modular units. They also have the strongest and clearest concepts.

The relationship between a whole and its repetitive parts is analogous in both Lego and modular architecture. I guess one of the reasons why everyone loves a Lego model is because we can transform ideas into physical forms really quickly, with our own hands. It is a microcosm or “mini-me” of the real world: not fanciful and definitely not magical. Build it sturdily and it will last for ages; but pushing it to the extremes and you will observe its inevitable failure. For both architect and non-architect alike, it stirs up our innate desire to create.

Perhaps the new Lego Architect’s series will generate early popularity with the young ones and attract more to-be talents to the industry. As the LEGO company aptly puts it: “We hope to inspire future architects around the world with the brick as a medium.”♦

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